Swansea the capital of Welsh sport
25th October 2014
A top flight Leicester team will visit the Liberty Stadium this evening for the first time since January 2013.
Unless something drastic happens, there will be a crowd of around 20,500 packed into the ground today.
It was a very different story on that occasion back at the beginning of last year. The visitors from the East Midlands weren't Leicester City, they were Leicester Tigers - one of the biggest names in European rugby union.
And it wasn't a regular league match. The visitors were here to play a vital European Cup match against the Ospreys - the losers knowing they would be out of contention for a place in the last eight of the Northern Hemisphere's biggest domestic rugby competition.
It was one of the biggest and most important rugby occasions the Liberty Stadium has ever hosted.
But the attendance for that massive match was 13,126 - over 7,000 short of the likely attendance for this afternoon's Premier League match.
That will surely be a startling statistic for anyone who still believes that rugby is more popular in Wales than football.
Three years earlier, the Tigers were also the visitors for a another vital "winner takes all" European Cup match.
On that occasion, the triumphant team were guaranteed a place in the last eight of the competition. The attendance that afternoon was slightly larger, with 15,626 coming in through the turnstiles.
Intriguingly though, just seven days earlier, Leicester City were in town for a Football League Championship match against the Swans, which drew in a crowd of 15,037.
A match between two Championship football sides attracted just under 600 fewer fans than a massive European Cup shoot-out. And this in what is supposedly a hotbed of rugby union.
The Ospreys are enjoying a flying start to this season having last Sunday chalked up their seventh win out of seven since the start of the season. They are the only unbeaten team in Europe's top three leagues.
However, when the high-flying region hosted Cardiff Blues in the first all-Welsh derby to be played at the Liberty Stadium this season, there was a crowd of only 10,800 - just over half the attendance expected today.
Swans fans won't have to stretch their minds back too far to recall the electric atmosphere generated at a packed Liberty Stadium last season when the capital city's footballing counterparts visited in the Premier League.
Last season, the Swans' average home attendance in the Premier League was a shade over 20,500. The Ospreys' average home league attendances for the same season was just 8,000.
Now before anyone accuses me of taking cheap shots at our fellow Liberty Stadium tenants, let me assure you that isn't the point of this article.
I would love to see the Ospreys sell-out every week in the same way the Swans currently are.
I don't subscribe to the old "Egg Chasers" v "Wendyballers" debate. I enjoy both sports and take great pleasure in seeing the city's two major sporting teams enjoying phenomenal success on the pitch. Personally, I'd like to see an even closer relationship between the two organisations than already exists.
Surely not even the most one-eyed rugby fans can argue that the oval ball game is currently more popular than the round ball version in Swansea.
What really frustrates me is that the old line about rugby being the national sport of Wales is still being trotted out.
We heard it again recently when the WRU and the regions finally sorted out the Participation Agreement outlining the future for professional rugby in Wales and announced an investment of £22.5m in the professional game.
The WRU chief executive Roger Lewis said: "The levels of re-investment are hard facts which serve to prove that Welsh rugby is determined to maintain its status as the national sport of Wales."
Really, Roger? And how exactly do you intend to back up that statement?
For a country whose national game is supposed to be rugby there are currently huge disparities in the number of fans the professional football clubs attract compared to the professional regions.
I would also argue that participation numbers for football would be greater than those for rugby in Wales.
The WRU will of course point to international attendances. The Millennium Stadium is pretty much guaranteed a 70,000 plus attendance for any match featuring a top tier nation.
By contrast, the FAW officials were drooling over the recent 30,000 crowd attracted to the Cardiff City stadium for the Wales v Bosnia match - the highest attendance for a Welsh match in three-and-a-half-years.
It wasn't always this way for Wales' footballers. Go back just over a decade and they too were attracting crowds of 70,000 to the Millennium on the back of the success of Mark Hughes' team and low ticket prices.
Gareth Bale - a Welsh sportsman who has a far bigger global image than any of our rugby players - believes those boom days can return for Welsh international football: "I feel football can overtake rugby soon. I remember when I was younger the Millennium Stadium was full every time I went to watch.
"Rugby has obviously overtaken it in recent years but I feel football is on the incline and we can get a lot of fans to the games and get the support behind us. It's not only important for us as a team to get to a major championship, but as a nation as a whole."
It just goes to show how things can change, and not just here in Wales. Our visitors from Leicester know how fortunes can fluctuate.
Go back to the 1970s and Leicester City were pulling in crowds of 20,000-plus while the Tigers were lucky to bring in 2,000. At the start of that decade the rugby club only had 600-700 members and were surviving on gates of less than 1,000.
Then, as the rugby team started to overtake the footballers in terms of success, it was the Tigers who were bringing in the consistently bigger crowds.
Nowadays, things are fairly even in the attendance stakes in the East Midlands. Leicester Tigers' average league attendance for 2013/14 was 22,850, while Leicester City average league attendance was 25,003. Far more evenly matched than the attendance figures are here in Swansea.
Surely, following the success of the Swans and Welsh participants in other sports such as boxing, cycling, athletics and golf, it's time to finally ditch this idea of Wales being a rugby nation and think of it more as a sporting nation . . . with Swansea as its capital!
C'mon you Swans!